May 21, 2024

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Simple Versus Complex Carbohydrates

There are two basic types of carbs: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Your body reacts to each type of carbohydrate differently. This article touches on the differences of the two types and how your body reacts to each.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, sometimes referred to as “sugars” in common language, are what creates sweetness in foods. Some simple carbs are: glucose, fructose, galactose, maltose, sucrose, and lactose. Glucose is sometimes called dextrose or blood sugar and is the main source of energy for the human body. Fructose is the sugar found in fruit; galactose and lactose in milk; maltose is malt sugar (rare in the natural world); and sucrose is common table sugar. These types of carbs are digested rapidly and invoke a high insulin response.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are composed of long chains of glucose molecules. They are often referred to as “starch” or “fiber” in common language. As far as nutrition goes, there are three classifications of complex carbs: insoluble fiber, soluble fiber, and starch. Starch is found in foods like pasta, potatoes, cereal, rice, and bread. Soluble fiber exists in beans, oatmeal, and citrus fruits, however insoluble fiber comes from whole-grain products (brown rice, whole grain bread, etc.). Starch is digested slower than simple carbs but still invokes an insulin response. Soluble and insoluble fiber, however, do not lead to an insulin response. Soluble fiber slows digestion and glucose absorption, and insoluble fiber speeds up how food matter passes through the digestive tract. Because of this there is lower absorption of nutrients before the food is excreted from the body.

So what should I eat?

Most of the time, complex carbs would be a better choice: they provide a slower release of glucose over the course of several hours, and are often found in foods with a surplus of other nutrients. For your post workout nutrition, however, you need to quickly deliver nutrients to your muscles to cease breakdown that occurs during your workout and to begin the recovery process. Simple carbs are what you want; they digest quickly and cause a significant insulin response.

What is the meaning of insulin response?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It’s considered an anabolic hormone, which means it makes the body increase body tissue. When you eat carbs, the amount of insulin that the pancreas secretes depends on the type of carbs eaten. The glycemic index compares the relationship between food and insulin. While working out, your body is producing a second hormone, called cortisol. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it leads to breakdown of body tissue. After your workout, you want to eat carbohydrates that will invoke an insulin response (cause the body to release insulin) to halt the effects of cortisol and begin muscle recovery.